It Matters

Bedlam: a place, scene, or state of uproar and confusion.

First, congratulations to those of you who earned a degree from the University of Oklahoma. Your alma mater played well and deserves to be the Big 12 Champion. Perine taking a knee on the one-yard line was a classy move.

The word bedlam originated around 1529 and was first used as the popular name for the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London, an insane asylum. Bedlam is from Middle English Bedlem, meaning Bethlehem.

Insane asylums during that time were horrible places where patients were chained up in cramped, unclean, and poorly ventilated rooms. It was not uncommon for those in charge of these facilities to falsify records and steal donations while depriving patients of food and basic necessities.

I can imagine what the interior of these places might be like. The smells, the dirty and unkempt conditions, and the noise of those with mental illnesses crying out in pain and confusion. It would be daunting.

As society learned more about mental illness, we began to understand that these people were sick and could be treated, not just kept like animals. Philippe Pinel was instrumental in the transformation of bedlams from filthy hellholes to well-ordered, humane institutions. However, this transformation required someone to see past the outward manifestations of the illness. It required someone to see the people in these asylums as human beings.

Often when I am faced with people acting in ways or saying things I don’t like or understand, it is tempting to react by “containing” them mentally and emotionally—and in a way, making them less than human. It makes it easier to rationalize dehumanizing someone if I am in a group of other people who also marginalize the same people.

This is why mobs of people can do terrible things. It is why genteel societies can morph into genocidal monsters. It is why a football stadium can be a scary place if you’re rooting for the visiting team. And it can make going to school or coming to work unbearable if you don’t feel safe, accepted, or cared for.

In the same way I marginalize people who don’t match my view of “normal” or whom I want to control, I also tend to marginalize God when I want him to be more manageable or “fit” into the box I want him in.

If I place my treatment of God and others on a continuum with “mattering” on one end and “marginalizing” on the other end, I can choose to be honest with myself about the way I relate. Moving myself toward the “mattering” side requires empathy, humility, and selflessness.

When I “matter” to someone, I generally feel like part of the team, included, and that my feelings and opinions count.

When I am “marginalized” by someone, I generally feel excluded, not part of the common goals, and unnoticed.

Here’s the thing: we don’t have to change the world; we just have to make the world safer for one person at a time. My challenge every day is to stay alert and acknowledge when I am marginalizing someone and then change that to mattering. There is a tangible effect from this. You’ve heard the saying, “Hurting people, hurt people.” It is also true that people who feel like they matter are likely to treat others like they matter.

The most I will ever matter is how much I already matter to God. In a few weeks, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. God’s most tangible demonstration of how much I matter is that he sent his son to earth to die for me. Wow.

I would like to tell you that you matter that much to me, but I am not capable of being that selfless. However, you do matter very much to me, and I will continue looking for ways to help you know that you matter. Because you do.